Events of recent days hint at a new cycle of development. AB has again made the crossing from California to St. Petersburg. Less than a day after arrival, Tatyana Apraksina managed to reopen a space and sit down to work at her desk in the magazine’s historical editorial offices on Apraksin Lane. The first meetings with supporters of the magazine’s Work have already taken place. The Russian print run of the latest issue was delivered on time for three days of presentations and is now in many contributors’ and readers’ hands. AB has also reclaimed Apraksina’s neighboring art studio, having gained an opportunity to enter the space and start restoring order there for the first time in more than twenty years.

That order turns out to include a trove of treasures shoved aside during the years of the studio’s occupation by interests alien to Blues. AB has rehung a group of Apraksina’s paintings from the mid-90s — the beginning of the age of Blues — paintings formerly trapped and plausibly lost in the plundered space. This is artwork that for more than twenty years no one could view directly and much of which had never been documented with reproductions.

Also found in the rescued studio is the once-missing 1986 painting “In Memoriam – Gutnikov.” The latter painting, which many viewers have loved dearly, proved particularly dusty and rumpled in its desolation — directly opposed to the outlet to transcendent serenity indicated by the painting’s subject. “Poor Gutnikov,” Apraksina says ruefully, as if with regard to both the painting and the long-departed violinist to whom it is dedicated.

Emphatically, such wounds are merciful marks of dedication to the high. They are battle scars. All these paintings manifest an axis where embodiment in time connects with infinity. Struggle is one of the conditions of their existence in the world.

T. Apraksina. In Memoriam - Gutnikov. 1986

T. Apraksina. In Memoriam – Gutnikov. 1986

“The first thing avaricious people do at their nearest opportunity,” says Apraksina, “is take down my paintings from walls.” Attempting to hide the possibility of a choice of selflessness, of transcendence.

Also found are a painting and a sculpture by the African artist Raymond Dalakena, who lived on the territory of the future AB editorial office in the late 70s.

Viewers can now reacquaint themselves with these resurrected works — for the first time in the new millenium.

One man wishes Apraksina, overloaded with preparing the spaces for their turnaround, “Take some time to recuperate.” “That’s probably not the most urgent thing right now,” she replies, laughing. “In that case, savor the moment!” he jokes back. And she heads off to savor the moment some more, rolling up her sleeves along the way.

Sacred objects from the sphere of the AB studio are also unearthed: old vases and statuettes, musical instruments consonant with the artist’s and editor in chief’s professional and philosophical orientation toward musicians as heroes. The greater part of these dusty instruments turns out to be crammed together, often without cases and with scrolls dangling downward, behind a large easel shoved into the corner of a storage closet. Their extrication from there is difficult, like dismantling inverted crucifixions on a shared cross. Not surprisingly, as a rule, these instruments also bear traces of trauma.

The out-of-tune antique upright piano may be tunable. Dust is easily wiped away. But the mandolin’s soundboard is now coming off, the small cello’s bridge has collapsed, and a scratch has appeared on the painted skin of one of the old Chinese drums. A guitar on which giants of musical culture have played now has a large crack and was evidently restrung for a lefty before its consignment to oblivion.

All the instruments remain emblems of the beautiful. They are alive and still able to give and to speak.

On the scratched Chinese drum is the image of a phoenix. It’s suddenly clear where the phoenix came from in Apraksina’s painting on the same subject. “Of course,” says Apraksina, “there’s a direct connection. I’ve looked at that drum so much in my life.” The painting dates from 1995 — the year of Blues’ founding. Like a phoenix, the magazine’s community was born from ashes. And now is reborn from the ashes of yet another era.

Tatyana Apraksina. Phoenix. 1995

Tatyana Apraksina. Phoenix. 1995

There is a sense that all the objects in the art studio have spent years hiding in terror and only now are letting themselves be seen again. After an extended regime of defilement, “treasure island” is opening up anew.

On the first day, a guest tells of how her heart overflowed on her way to the Lane. She recalls how, in years past, she might walk here at night and see lights burning only at these windows. And from the windows, the beat of a Chinese drum might also carry. “For me, this place is sacred!” she exclaims. This guest brings a yellow rose.

The rose stands for a day in a vase on a table in the editorial office. Then it’s hung upside down to dry on the studio’s wall. Finally, it’s set in a vase again, in a new steady state. This is the first flower offering of AB’s new time.

From France, an author, long familiar with the well-known spot on the Lane, writes that on the night of AB’s arrival she had a dream of painting the walls in the editorial apartment. Everyone feels something is happening. Everyone is taking part directly, at whatever distance, by whatever means.

Everything changes amazingly quickly. And so recently this was more or less completely unimaginable! As Apraksina says, “I have a good working belief in the invisible.”

As order is restored, ever fewer reminders of the era of disorder remain. The way is shut for any return to such an era. It is shut by the expanded ranks of paintings standing guard. It is shut, too, by people’s visits, with their human warmth and notions.

 

 

For the days of presentations and meetings with the magazine’s leadership, people are traveling from Moscow and as far away as Volgograd. Greetings arrive from Germany, France, Israel, Taiwan, and various states in America.

More and more people make contact with AB. Many first learned the editorial telephone number decades ago; using it again, they realize they recall it readily now.

Right from the first presentation, it becomes clear that a need for AB is felt like never before. Some attend all three days in a row. Someone speaks of the long-overdue prestige of phenomena without obvious pragmatic aims. Someone speaks of the breath of fresh air that AB gives in the stuffy contemporary context. It’s important, some say, that AB exists completely free of any administrative burden. That at AB’s gatherings, people can say what they think, without even introducing themselves to each other, and just remaining thinking people, as equals.

 

 

That both the editorial office and the art studio are on the very first floor seems more than a coincidence. Yes, from a residential point of view, first floors are traditionally less valued than others, at least in Russia — the first floor tends to be colder than higher ones, as water is heated from above, starting with the top floor. On the other hand, it’s quite easy to come here and find warmth in cultural association.

One visitor says, from the threshold, “I came here because I read in your announcement that eras are changing, that one era is ending and another is beginning. I feel that, too; I think about that a lot, and I’m hoping to discuss it.”

Selfless transcendence is possible. There is such an alternative. There are such precedents. One has hung on here for decades, with relevancy spanning millennia.

 

 

Maybe it was necessary to wait twenty years for society to mature for AB, for society to grow disappointed in readymade new superfluities. For people to feel, at least unconsciously, that they again need such a physically embodied forum for developing new principles of interlocution, for calibration of themes, for ardent searches for truth. As one participant said, “All of these conjunctions are so needed. They give a person both a spark and a fullness, like with gasoline. Then that spark finds the person’s gas tank. Life depends on that combustion.”

The presence of one of the proposed characteristics of the new era and of Petersburg itself, indifference, seems to fly away quickly from everyone whose life it might have touched.

It’s said that lately many people feel surrounded by shells, with no chance for broader social influence. But here, with AB, people seem to forget the issue of social influence entirely. And start feeling happy. And why not? As Apraksina reminds, all worthy things have always begun with solitary people. When resonance with truth begins, that means it’s necessary to continue. There will be results. There are results. With AB, that all can be seen.

 

— James Manteith, St. Petersburg

by contributing translation editor James Manteith

Photo: Irina Serpuchyonok

Just a few days remain until the planned presentation, in St. Petersburg, of the latest issue of Apraksin Blues, №29, “The Career of Freedom.” As in 2015, for the presentation of №25, “Of all the…,” editor in chief Tatyana Apraksina and I have an opportunity to travel from one of the magazine’s other bases, in California’s Santa Lucia mountains, to St. Petersburg for this presentation. Since our last trip, the three issues released in the interval (“Non-Return,” “The Vector of Translation,” “The Reefs of Conflict”) have gone out to AB’s readers and contributors in Russia through the help of our capable St. Petersburg support team.

 

A milestone of that earlier trip and presentation was AB regaining use of its historical St. Petersburg editorial office, where the presentation was held, along with many other meetings with friends of the magazine. During this current trip, November 5-December 6, 2019, the presentation is again planned for the editorial office on Apraksin Lane. Adding another dimension this time, miraculously, the adjacent space formerly used as Tatyana Apraksina’s art studio has also come back under the care of the artist. For the first time in more than twenty years, for the first time in the new millennium, AB has a place to lead from, work from, and interact from with the magazine’s supporters in the city and amid the very walls of its founding — within the city and walls its pages have grown from, and which remain like gates opening into and uniting new places and themes.

 

Understandably, as with the editorial office, resuscitating the studio will take a considerable effort. It will be different than before. Again, though, all this enables a precious continuity between past and future in AB’s cultural community, raising hopes that this past is alive and meant for dynamic permanence; that the ideals and evidence crystallized in and around AB are meant to enrich the future; and that, in the present, AB’s friends are empowered to decide and create the future they want for themselves.

 

As I write, on the day of our departure from the Santa Lucias, the initial run of “The Career of Freedom” is at the printers in St. Petersburg. The experience of nearly a year working on this issue remains fresh. As the issue reaches readers and is complemented by meetings with and among many of its authors, the vitality of the thoughts and minds that converge in the issue will be felt directly and will move toward new manifestations. Some of AB’s authors and readers know each other, or of each other, already; some will be encountering each other and the magazine itself for the first time; all will have a chance to see ideas, stories, aspirations given a new account, in a newly illuminating synthesis.

 

AB’s editor in chief, of course, has crafted and proofed this issue carefully. She has read through its pages many times, with the sum of this reading and other accompanying actions and intuitions reflected in an introductory statement, the “Blues Mondo.” As always, each of the materials in this issue has colored and will continue to inform AB’s life in its own way.

 

Asked what it was like to work on this issue, Apraksina commented, “Every issue is a process of searching for a kind of philosopher’s stone in a different form, from a different angle. The main thing for a given issue could be centered in one piece or dispersed across parts. Everything serves as a useful tool, even if it doesn’t seem to contain much of anything. Sometimes there’s an inner connection in hints, in phrases. Even totally unconnected authors turn out to be saying exactly the same thing. ‘Blues’ arises naturally from a condition of the atmosphere.”

 

Once again, readers will now have a chance to discover these inner connections, these hints and phrases pointing to the main thing, for themselves. For a start, it should be easy to determine the source of the issue’s title, derived from contributor Olga Shilova’s article of the same name, on the Decembrist Mikhail Lunin. The phrase itself belongs to Lunin, who used these words to describe his own life’s orientation. This orientation, of course, led him on a path of exile and deprivation, but also of liberation, of becoming himself, of embodying his values and sensibilities on a new scale and in contexts of being far beyond his native environment, and yet serving as a form of offering to enlarge human definitions anywhere. Kindred priorities, lived in extremely diverse ways, might be glimpsed among other lives contemplated in this issue: Emily Dickinson, Milarepa, Catullus, and others. And through all, the supreme life and “living logic” of the Trinity.

 

As the life of Apraksin Blues continues, “Translation Department” and other voices of this community will continue to report and dialog from this constellation of cultural unities and affinities — and partitioning for the sake of their higher and fuller realization, as Apraksina’s new Mondo suggests. As new material from original Russian AB issues appears in translation, “Translation Department” will alert readers to these premieres, as well as providing background to pieces and speaking of the mind of translation and cross-cultural engagement on the whole. Having translated and written for AB for more than two decades now, I can and will provide more windows on the joys, struggles and insights for which this modestly enduring publication serves as a locus point — true to its founding principles, continuing to stand on Peter’s rock.

What needs translation, in this case and maybe always, is reality.